Restaurant Update from Asia

In April, RMS reported on the state of restaurants in Asia. Now, seven months later, it’s time for an update. For the sake of this article, we’ll focus on Korea.

Unlike the U.S. and Europe, Korea has not had any mandatory shutdowns of restaurants during the pandemic — they are still operating as usual. But, according to RMS Senior Analyst Cathy Ko, even though dine-in has remained an option, many diners are still being cautious.

Almost as soon as the first COVID case was reported in the country, restaurant traffic started to shift to delivery and takeout. This hasn’t changed, Ko says. Throughout the pandemic, this trend has remained steady among RMS restaurant clients and the Korean population at large. An August survey conducted by Dunnhumby of 400 Koreans revealed that 60% of respondents reported using delivery service, and 53% having used takeout service to get their favorite meals at home.

Korea’s safety measures shift

Ko says once the first wave of the pandemic was under control in Korea, more people returned to eating out at restaurants. That increased traffic and an overall sense of “pandemic fatigue” prompted the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters to put into place updated safety measures and new guidelines.

The updates weren’t designed solely to protect diners, says Ko, but to help minimize negative economic impact. “The previous measures,” she says, “were not refined enough to accommodate various situations, like different infection levels in multiple regions. For instance, currently, Seoul is at level 2.5, so cafes can only serve delivery and takeout. Prior to the revision, however, this leveling up would have impacted all the cafes in the entire country, even in regions that didn’t see severe infection cases like Seoul has. Now, although Seoul is at level 2.5, except for 2 smaller regions at level 1.5, the rest of the country is maintaining level 2 and will be able to operate in-store/under different restrictions.”

The main changes Korea has made in recent months focus on two points:

  1. Masks are mandatory in public starting Nov. 13. Those who do not comply will face a KRW 100,000 (~$85.50US) fine. Noncompliant mask-wearing (not covering the nose) or using scarves or masks that do not adequately protect others will also garner monetary fines. The one exemption to the mask mandate is for children under age 14 and people with medical conditions that make them unable to wear a mask.
  2. Updated social distancing guidelines. Korea’s previous three-tier social distancing plan was too broad, says Ko. In an effort to establish more sustainable and preventative COVID measures, the government has since expanded the plan to reflect five tiers. (See chart below as it pertains to restaurants.) Now, instead of measuring cases only at the national level (despite regional and/or cluster infections), the new standards will apply at a regional level.

South Korea’s updated COVID guidelines for restaurants

Ko says the revised guidelines were partly driven by a steady increase of dine-in consumers. In addition, as the holiday season approaches, the government was concerned year-end parties would cause a spike in infection cases.

“Because Korea is experiencing a third wave, it’s difficult to measure the impact of the revised guidelines and determine if the number of dine-in customers has increased or decreased,” she says. “The country is keeping a close eye on daily infection cases.”

As the pandemic remains at the forefront of our collective existence, RMS is ready to help brands make the best decisions based on data and insights. If you’re looking for practical and actionable strategies to optimize your current business and future growth, please contact us today for a complimentary assessment.

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